**Simply Love will be a work published serially. Contemporary romance slash chick lit, this piece will be updated every week. Follow Cadence Mills as her twentysomething life of cocktails and fashion is turned upside down with a family tragedy. Moving to Maplewood isn’t her choice, but could living the simple life put things in perspective…and even lead to love?***
Sometimes putting your dreams aside can lead you to new passions.
Our lives don’t typically change in a formulaic, mapped out fashion. Our lives usually morph because of a fleeting idea, a dancing fantastical whim coaxing us forward onto a new path.
My life changed forever when a whim beckoned me home, or at least to the closest thing I had to home.
I don’t know if I’d call it a whim exactly. Perhaps it was more of a gut reaction, an instinct that it was the right thing to do. In the moment, it seemed like a simple act, simple words. In fact, I upended my entire life with three little words: “I’m coming home.”
It was a mucky Thursday, mud sloshing under my knee-high boots, when the words escaped my lips and transformed my life. Standing under the umbrella the funeral director held above my head, I put an arm around Gram. Squeezing her into me, the soft floral scent of her familiar perfume dancing around me in the midst of the ashy rain smell, I practically whispered the words.
“I’m coming home.”
“What, dear? What do you mean?” Tears danced down her cheek, and her voice cracked from the strain of the day.
It was a bold statement to make backing away from Grandpa Joseph’s grave. Gram’s tears were still flowing, and our hearts were still panging with the heaviness of good-bye. Still, walking away from the graveyard, my frail Gram in my arms, I knew the words were necessary. More than that, I knew the action behind them was necessary.
The words, although genuine, were arguably inaccurate. No wonder poor Gram was confused. Maplewood had never been home for me, not really. It was Gram and Grandpa’s home their entire lives. I’d visited here a few times a year when Mom and Dad were still alive. Growing up, I’d spent holidays in Maplewood, had been here to walk the creek in the summer months every now and then.
But it was never home.
Home for me was with my parents in South Carolina. Home now was in my overly expensive two-bedroom in New York City, the bustle of the nightlife energizing me.
Maplewood would never be home, not physically. The word slipped off my tongue though, perhaps saying more about my situation than I even knew.
Gram was there, my only living family member. Perhaps Maplewood was home after all, even if I didn’t know it yet. How couldn’t it be? That beautiful woman who had saved me during my darkest hour, who had upended her own life to take care of the lost seventeen-year-old I once was, needed me. I owed her.
“I’m moving. I’m coming to live with you.”
e walked toward the hearse, ready to go to the funeral luncheon. I knew it was a formality, but I didn’t know if I wanted to face everyone’s cheerful conversations over ham sandwiches, cookies, and strange punch. I wanted to mourn in peace. I wanted to surround myself with Grandpa Joseph’s favorite things, to talk about him with the only woman who truly knew him—Gram.
“No, honey. You can’t do that. Your life is in New York. You’ve got an amazing job and friends. You can’t,” she said, vehemently shaking her head.
“Gram, it’s not up for debate. It’s done. I’m coming to live with you. I want to do this. Let me do this.”
“I won’t let you do this. I’m fine, dear.”
I opened the door for her and helped her creakily lean down, her bones cracking as she moved her frail bottom across the seat.
Gram let out a loud “umph” as she settled in, and I crawled in beside her. The funeral director shut the door. I wondered if he ever felt awkward, like he was privy to conversations too intimate for funeral director’s ears. Then again, when you handled the dead, perhaps nothing was off-limits or too taboo.
“Gram, listen. It’ll be great. I can talk to Whitney. I’m sure with Skype and things, I could just work from home, work remotely. And it’ll be good. A change of scenery will help with the creative juices.”
“Come on, Cadence. I might be ancient, but I’m not daft. You’re not moving here for a change of scenery. You want to babysit me.”
“It’s not like that, Gram. I know you’d be fine. I just…I miss you. I miss Grandpa. I want to be close to you.”
Sighing, Gram leaned in to give me a squeeze, her cold, bony fingers digging into the soft flesh of my arm. I rested my head on her shoulder like I'd done so many times, the comfort of her familiar yet scratchy sweater soothing me.
“I miss you, too. I just don’t want you changing your whole life for me.”
“Gram, let me do this. Please,” I begged, knowing I’m winning her over.
“Okay,” she said simply, patting my hand. We sat in silence the whole way to the luncheon, thinking about Grandpa, thinking about how frail life is, and thinking about how so much was changing.
For me, though, the big changes hadn’t even begun. I just didn’t know it yet.
I shove the three suitcases into the trunk of my Uber driver’s car. He looks a little annoyed that I’m jiggling and wiggling them into the trunk of his flashy red sports car, but I don’t care. It’s been a long day, and I just want to get to Gram’s house.
My house, I correct myself.
I blow a piece of my hair out of my eye, sliding my sunglasses back down as I plod to the passenger seat. He shuts the trunk as I prepare for the awkward twenty-five minutes of small-talk I’m about to endure.
Mercifully, though, my phone rings. It’s probably rude to answer it, but I don’t care right now. Roger will just have to deal with it.
“Hey, miss me already?” I say into the phone once I pick up.
“Don’t you know it. I still can’t believe you’re gone. This is crazy, Cade, you know that right?”
I exhale. I’ve been through this so many times with Lilly, with Whitney, and with everyone else in my friends’ group in the city.
“It’s the right thing, Lilly. She’s all I have left, and vice versa. I can’t just let Gram live alone.”
“They have places for this sort of thing.”
“I can’t put Gram in a place like that. She’s too feisty for those witchy women there. She’d be evicted in five minutes. Besides, she upended her life for me not that long ago. It’s the least I can do to pay her back.”
“But she was in her seventies when she did that for you, not twenty-six. There’s a big difference.” Lilly’s voice is a tad whiny, as if she can change my mind.
“Lil, I know. But I need to do this. Look, I’ll come back to the city as often as I can. And who knows, once Gram recovers a little from the shock and gets back on her feet, maybe I’ll come back.”
“Well, maybe I’ll find a new roommate by then,” Lilly says into the phone. Her voice tells me she’s smiling.
“Please, I know better. Who the hell else would deal with your obsession with Teen Mom and your messy habits?”
“You’re right. Well, listen. If you’re going to be in another state, at least do some prospecting for me, okay? Let me know how the man market is there. Maybe I’ll have to make a visit out there.”
“If you can’t find a man in New York City, what makes you think you’d find one here, in the middle of nowhere? Pretty sure the pickings will be slim,” I say, accidentally making eye contact with Roger who is at a red light. I wince a little at my implied insult, and turn back to look out my window.
“Well, call me once you get settled in. I miss you already.”
“Miss you too. Don’t worry, I’ll be calling plenty. The biggest thrill here is Dunkin Donuts and Wal-Mart. Seriously. There’s like nothing.”
“Despite the fact I think you’re insane for giving up your awesome, youthful life here in the city, I think you’re doing a nice thing. Your Gram is lucky to have you.”
“Thanks, Lilly. Be sure to harass Stuart for me at work on Monday.”
“Of course. Much love,” she says, and she hangs up. I rest my phone in my lap, feeling sad.
Glancing out my window, I peer at the trees as they pass by, missing the bright lights and crazy traffic already. When I headed for the city at twenty-two, I thought I’d be there forever. I thought the city life would be mine to own for as long as I wanted.
But life changed. I learned early on that life doesn’t always go as plan. Tragedy can strike at any time, and sometimes your life takes an unexpected turn.
Still, as Roger pulls into the familiar driveway, the one-story brick house in view, my Gram waving from the rocker on her front porch, I smile. I miss my friends and our cocktail hours already. I miss the sushi bar down the street from our apartment. I miss the hustle and bustle of the office, of going across the hallway at the office to show Lilly my latest sketch for the new collection. I miss all of the possibility, the exuberant feeling of walking down the sidewalk feeling like I’d achieved my goal.
As I hand Roger cash, though, and tug my luggage out of the trunk, I can’t help but feel hopeful in a new way. Maybe moving to Maplewood will be a new kind of dream, a new kind of possibility. Maybe a new life is waiting right around the corner.
Regardless, I walk onto the porch, rushing into Gram’s arms. “Welcome to Maplewood,” she says as if she’s greeting me for the first time.
In some ways, I guess she is. Because the old Cadence Mills is gone again, her designer heels and sunglasses looking quite out of place in this simple setting.
Welcome to Maplewood, indeed.
TO BE CONTINUED….